A Guess At Tide's Spring Award Winners
Reporters covering Alabama football have the disadvantage of not being able to watch Crimson Tide football practice. There is a brief window each day to watch players go through individual drills. Those who have attempted to reach conclusions based on those observations don't have a very good track record. Bama Coach Nick Saban says he doesn't read newspapers (most coaches make that claim), but he knows when someone has put two and two together and come up with five, and he lets the offender (along with all others in the profession) know about the mistake.
Taking the bits and pieces of information doled out and attempting to reach a conclusion may also be a fool's errand, but a relatively harmless one.
In the early 1970s, former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant began the selecting players for various awards based on their performances—primarily their improvement—during spring football practice. The awards were named for legendary players and selected by the coaching staff.
One year a decade or so ago, the coaching staff failed to select the award winners. Tommy Deas of the Tuscaloosa News and I had attended every practice, so we came up with a list we thought should have won the awards. When the coaching staff reassembled a few weeks later, they took care of that business and their selections were virtually the same as the ones Deas and I had made.
Of course, we had the advantage of having being able to watch the practice work and see movement from third team to second team to first team (or vice versa).
Over the years there have been a few changes in the awards, and some staffs have seemed to be not so concerned with sticking to the exact name of the award. Instead of one making improvement, sometimes the award seems to have gone to one who is excellent.
The media will select two award winners for their performances in Saturday's A-Day Game. They are the Dixie Howell Award for the most outstanding player in the game and the Dwight Stephenson Award for the most outstanding lineman in the game.
The coaching staff selections will be for the whole body of players' work up to the A-Day Game (since the awards will almost certainly be included in press notes prior to the game).
Based on what we have heard from Coach Saban and from players, here are our guesses as to which players might be selected for various awards:
Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award: It will not be a surprise if middle linebacker Rolando McClain repeats as winner.
Jerry Duncan "I LIke To Practice" Award: Last year the award was won by two players, tight end Travis McCall and cornerback Javier Arenas. We think Arenas could win again, along with wide receiver Mike McCoy.
Billy Neighbors Most Improved Defensive Lineman Award: Although he was an All-America in his junior season, nose tackle Terrence Cody looks to be in better condition and making an even more impressive showing than he did last year.
Bobby Johns Most Improved Defensive Back Award: Cornerback Kareem Jackson won last year, This year we think it will be one of the men attempting to replace All-America Rashad Johnson (the 2007 winner) at a safety spot, either Ali Sharrief or Robby Green.
Paul Crane Most Improved Offensive Lineman Award: Last year it was guard Mike Johnson (who has missed much work this spring with a sprained ankle) and All-America tackle Andre Smith (a repeat winner). This year we think it will be William Vlachos in a close decision over David Ross, who are competing to replace Antoine Caldwell at center, but we wouldn't be surprised if it was not returning starting right tackle Drew Davis.
Ray Perkins Most Improved Receiver Award: Mike McCoy won the award in 2008. If it's a wide receiver, we expect it to be Darius Hanks, but it could be tight end Colin Peek.
Woodrow Lowe Most Improved Linebacker Award: This seems to be a very competitive situation with four positions and a lot of good players. Based on what we've heard about a very good player working at a lot of different places because of his ability, we'll go with Dont'a Hightower.
Johnny Musso Most Improved Offensive Back Award: Once upon a time (including up until last year when John Parker Wilson was the honoree), this award went to running backs and quarterbacks. Now there is a separate award for quarterbacks. It is very difficult to determine who might be the most improved running back based on scrimmage statistics, but we're going to go with Ivan Matchett.
Bart Starr Most Improved Quarterback Award: This was formerly a general award for most improved player. We expect Greg McElroy to win this award.
We also expect McElroy, whose off-season work to prepare to be the Alabama quarterback was talked about by Coach Saban and by players, will win the Sylvester Croom Commitment To Excellent Award.
We'll admit to not being very sure about any selections, and a couple of others are particularly daunting.
The Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award might go to John Michael Boswell, a back-up tackle as a true freshman last fall who is now listed as the leader to replace Marlon Davis at right guard.
The Paul "Bear" Bryant Best Non-Scholarship Player Award is a difficult one because there seem to be few walk-on players high up the depth chart. This may go to snapper Brian Selman.
We have no clue as to the winner of the Derrick Thomas Community Service Award. Last year it went to tailback Glen Coffee and linebacker Cory Reamer.
The Mal Moore Leadership Award would seem likely to go to someone like Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas, Greg McElroy or Mike McCoy.
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